On our latest European excursion, we spent two leisurely days in a picturesque little town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber. While strolling up and down the narrow streets, we noticed a particular pastry peering back at us from behind the glass at several bakeries: the schneebälle, or snowballs.
Now I will admit, I had read several websites referring to these infamous round balls of dough in advance of our trip, but I wasn’t expecting to see them in so many variations, flavours and sizes. They were everywhere. It wasn’t long before I decided, against the recommendations of many visitors who came before, to purchase a few of these sweets in order to make my own judgement. But they were hard to resist, the displays were beautiful:
You see that medieval torture device hanging above the display? That’s how schneebälle are made. The dough gets layered back and forth over a stick or wooden spoon, then pressed into the metal melon-baller-like device and deep fried. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?
When we went into one of the little bakeries to purchase a few schneebälle, I decided to buy three different flavours; vanilla, chocolate and lemon.
The first sign that perhaps these weren’t going to be the taste sensation I was hoping for, was when the cashier advised, “oh, don’t worry if you can’t finish them right away. They will last for about two months.”
This usually isn’t the sort of comment that goes along with high-quality, delectable, fresh pastries. But still, I was now invested. So we walked out of the store and took the first bite, trying the lemon schneeball first.
My initial impression was correct. This wasn’t going to be the sort of thing I would ever develop a craving for.
The dough is very comparable to pie crust. Flaky, dry, and somewhat flavourless. The balls are typically dipped into various flavour coatings to make them more palatable, (confectioner’s sugar, chocolate, coconut flakes, etc). But sadly, the coatings don’t make up for the center. Mark took one bite, shuddered, handed it back to me and announced, “I’m done.”
I carted the two remaining schneebälle around in a tupperware container for the remainder of our vacation. I finally ate the chocolate-dipped ball one morning in Prague because I was hungry. But the vanilla schneeball made the journey all the way back home to Edmonton, before I finally decided that neither one of us was keen on finishing it. I sliced one open to show the intricate folding of the dough inside:
The recipe for schneebälle has been around for at least 300 years. At one time people only made them for special occasions, like weddings. I suppose that 300 years ago people would have considered these folded dough-balls special. But now there are so many options for pastries and sweets that I would have to recommend avoiding these and ordering just about anything else. But if you are curious, just order one to start. A very small one. And let me know what you think!